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NBA Offseason Reviews: Orlando Magic

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By: Matt Flynn | Staff Writer

Be sure to click on my author page at the bottom of this article to read the rest of the Offseason Reviews that have already been completed. This is #7 in a series of thirty for every team.

The Orlando Magic are the perpetual rebuilders. They have now amassed a series of various lottery picks over the years in the hope that they can find the kind of upside talent necessary to bring an NBA franchise to the next level. They are, once again, coming off of a 25-win season with an abysmal offensive and mediocre defensive efficiency, and they still lack the guard play necessary to improve long-term.

Orlando Magic star Aaron Gordon shooting the ball against the Houston Rockets

Aaron Gordon shooting the ball against the Houston Rockets

Forward Aaron Gordon already has been through all four years of his rookie contract, and faced restricted free agency this summer, with the Magic being in the same position as they were when they drafted him: mired in a rebuild with no end in sight.

The next lottery pick was G/F Mario Hezonja, who, despite some occasional showings of adeptness, did not have his fourth-year team option renewed, so he hit free agency this summer as well. They traded promising F/C Domantas Sabonis in order to get Serge Ibaka in return, but Serge is no longer with the team.

The last two picks are last year’s F Jonathan Issac, and this year’s C Mo Bamba. Now, they have positional overlap in their best position groups, and a lack of even starting potential at the Point Guard spot. We can expect them to be in the lottery again come next June.

Here’s how the roster currently sits, with cap figures in millions:

PG- Jerian Grant (2.6); D.J. Augustin (7.3); Isaiah Briscoe (0.8)*

SG- Evan Fournier (17.0); Wes Iwundu (1.4); Melvin Frazier (1.1)

SF- Jonathon Simmons (6.0); Terrence Ross (10.5); Jarell Martin (2.4)

PF- Aaron Gordon (21.6); Jonathan Isaac (5.0); Khem Birch (1.4)

C-  Nikola Vucevic (12.8); Mo Bamba (4.9); Timofey Mozgov (16.0)

This means that they currently have around $112 million pledged on their cap, which places them well under the luxury tax but well over the soft cap. They still have a majority of their mid-level exception left, which they could use in the hope of acquiring an additional player, and they could spend all $7 or so million they have remaining without running into tax problems.

In terms of potential turnover for next year, both Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic are unrestricted free agents next summer. Both players could potentially have value as the Magic move forward, as Vucevic is coming off of another season where he almost averaged a double-double, and he’s consistently among the Top 10 to 15 in the league in rebound percentage.

Even if he’s good for 16 points and 10 rebounds again for another season, there’s a league-wide consensus that he isn’t a good defender, which I think is partially unfair. He’s not the smartest on-ball defender, and can get lost out of position, but he isn’t a terrible shot blocker, and he’s not bad enough to be consistently targeted down the floor.

If I were the Magic, I’d bring up his defensive metrics to my trade adversary before I actually let them value him under what he’s actually worth. Now, that doesn’t mean that he’s a complete steal, either. He seems often like an empty calories type of player who can gobble up boards and put back some shots, but struggles to have an actually identifiable skill to talk about.

Ross’s value is going to be tied hugely to health, after only playing 24 games last year. He also wasn’t necessarily a positive value in the limited time he was available, either, after posting a PER below 10 this most recent season. He needs to come out of the gates being able to shoot and still be athletic enough to defend on the perimeter adequately.

Either way, Ross only takes away from the Magic’s potential year to experiment playing Isaac, Gordon, and Bamba all together, and Vucevic is clogging up the young frontcourt as well. There probably needs to be some subsequent deals done before the Magic roster gets really set for the back half of the season.

In terms of additional housekeeping, they have the rights to F-Justin Jackson from Maryland after acquiring him in a pick-swap with Denver during the draft in the second round. He doesn’t appear to be heading to camp this year, so we’ll look out for him in summer league next year.

As for their future picks, they have their own first rounder for 2019 and have two-second rounders through a couple of deals, one of them from a deal this summer and one from moving back to take Jackson.

Outside of the second round pick swap, where they moved back two spots to take Jackson and got an additional 2019 2nd rounder, they also took G/F-Melvin Frazier at pick #35 from Tulane. He got a guaranteed contract that bit slightly into the Magic’s mid-level exception this summer, so expect to see him spending some time between Orlando and their G-League team this year.

Their other pick was the #6 overall pick, Mo Bamba, from Texas. Bamba is probably the most athletically gifted Center in the draft class, but is extremely raw and has a long way to go. I foresee him coming off the bench this year behind Vucevic for the time being.

Incoming players on the roster include:

C- Mo Bamba (draft, #6 overall from Texas)

G/F- Melvin Frazier (draft, #35 overall from Tulane)

G- Jerian Grant (trade with Chicago)

C- Timofey Mozgov (trade with Charlotte)

G- Isaiah Briscoe (signed as a free agent, from Portland)

F- Jarell Martin (trade with Memphis)

Departures from last year’s roster include:

C- Bismack Biyombo (trade with Charlotte)

F- Mario Hezonja (free agent, signed with New York)

G- Shelvin Mack (waived, signed with Memphis)

G- Rodney Purvis (trade with Oklahoma City)

G- Arron Afflalo (free agent, unclaimed)

F/C- Mo Speights (free agent, unclaimed)

The initial housekeeping moves done by Orlando at the start of the offseason included waiving G-Shelvin Mack and guaranteeing the contract of F/C-Khem Birch, who they had for a limited run last year. They were low on guard depth, so they signed Isaiah Briscoe to an unguaranteed minimum.

They made two trades this summer. The first was as follows:

Orlando gets: G-Jerian Grant, C-Timofey Mosgov, 2020 2nd rounder

Charlotte gets: C-Bismack Biyombo, 2019 2nd rounder

Chicago gets: G-Julyan Stone

This move allowed them to maneuver two players with hardly any ability to play, but end up adding Jerian Grant in the process. They can take a flier on Grant as a potential Point Guard piece while still not playing Mozgov, who essentially will take a back-of-the-bench role just as Biyombo would have done this year with the arrival of Bamba.

This trade was fine for Orlando, if there’s any value to Biyombo, they got some of it out by being able to test the waters on Grant for a season before he hits restricted free agency. If he plays well, they can go through the process with him, if he doesn’t, they can cut their losses and still be in the same financial situation with Mozgov as they were with Biyombo. Chicago needed to clear two million more in space to get Jabari Parker, and Charlotte will be able to try to use Biyombo as a defensive specialist in their frontcourt, while Mosgov would’ve just been unplayable.

Grant averaged 8 points and 5 assists last year for Chicago in a spot-starter role, and although he’s not much of a long-range shooter, he had a decent assist percentage, decent PER, but also unkind defensive metrics. I think he’s probably a better player right now than Augustin, so I’d give him a chance to start and see if he can develop a connection with one of the bigs in pick-and-roll.

If Isaac is going to be a sixth man long term off of the bench due to the sheer clutter of the frontcourt, it’d be nice if Grant could develop a chemistry with him.

The second trade they made went like this:

Orlando gets: C-Dakari Johnson (and cash)

OKC gets: G- Rodney Purvis

Then, they immediately pivoted to get rid of Johnson in another transaction:

Orlando gets F-Jarell Martin (and cash)

Memphis gets: C-Dakari Johnson and the draft rights to G-Tyler Harvey (2015 second round pick)

I’m not sure that Jarell Martin will be part of the rotation, so I’m assuming that they are stockpiling cash in case they want to use the rest of their mid-level exception, even if with a few additional minimums, they run into tax concerns. Because Frazier and Briscoe are taking up a small chunk of it, they have almost $7 million still to use on a player, so these small deals ending up with Martin seem to be more finance related than player related.

That being said, Martin did have a decent last few months last year, so maybe he could be a backup piece if someone gets injured.

Finally, the big Orlando news of the summer was the contract they gave Aaron Gordon in restricted free agency, worth 4 years for 80 million, with a descending total of salary throughout the years. He’ll make almost 22 million this year, but he’ll only make around 17 million in the fourth year.

I have been a huge supporter of Gordon’s career development. I love his athleticism, and I love his dedication to expanding his game into different facets. The inefficiency and willingness to settle for stand-still jumpers is a problem, though, and I wonder if he needs to find the healthy balance of still trying to be a complete player but also realizing what his strengths are.

His 53% true shooting percentage last year was abysmal, so his career high at almost 18 points per game doesn’t tell the entire story of how his offensive season actually went. That number also doesn’t describe how well he shot the ball at the beginning of the year, and then how he began to fall off after the first month.

Regardless, Gordon is player who is working to expand his offensive game, can guard multiple positions, and clearly is worth a contract that will be exceptionally reasonable in two-to-three years when the Magic start to make their push to be more competitive.

My complaint with the Magic isn’t about the moves that they made. The Gordon signing was the right play, and they still have some assets for the future. My issue is what they didn’t do. They need to begin moving off of guys like Vucevic and Ross, and they need to improve their guard play.

Jerian Grant and D.J. Augustin are not enough at Point Guard, and the PG position is necessary to help the bigger guys grow as offensive players. A good passer could aid in Isaac, Gordon, and Bamba’s development, but the Magic are so focused on staying in the lottery that they didn’t want to add anyone to help their players grow.

I’d give their offseason a C+.

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About Matt Flynn (14 Articles)
Matt is a third-year law student at Rutgers Law School and graduate of The College of New Jersey, where he formerly served as a radio talk show host and engineer for the Trenton Thunder. He currently works as a paralegal for a Trenton, New Jersey law firm and has committed to a clerkship with the New Jersey Appellate Division for the 2019-2020 term. When not pursuing law, he tends to his two greatest intellectual loves, film and the NBA. You can catch his movie reviews and related material on his personal blog ‘Blended Opinion’ and his NBA ramblings and salary cap expertise at ‘The Capital Sports Report.’

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